Tuesday, 15 April 2014

N is for Northmen


This A-Z, I’m looking at aspects of medieval history that might add some flavour to your fantasy or historical fiction. Today, I’m talking about Vikings. No, wait, that doesn’t work, does it? Northmen, then, which is a corruption of Norse men, and allows me to make the first point here, which is that your basic Vikings weren’t all one thing. “Viking” just meant the act of raiding, as in “we Northmen are going Viking”. Those who did it came from a variety of countries and attacked different places in different waves, with different tactics. North Men tended to refer to those from what is now Norway, but the Anglo Saxon Chronicle also says a lot about Danes, and the Swedes also did a lot. Generalising massively, we can say that in England at least, the Northmen raided, while the Danes conquered and the Swedes were too busy either in Ireland or off exploring elsewhere. One of the Byzantine empresses had an honour guard composed almost entirely of Swedish Vikings, because at least she could trust that they weren’t caught up in all the politics.

And then there are the Vikings who succeeded in conquering England. There are actually two lots involved here, because for many years, it did have what was called the Danelaw in the north of the country, while several English kings were Danish or Norwegian. Cnut is the obvious example. For a long time, then, it was essentially the southernmost point of a Viking empire. Ironically, it was another lot of Northmen, who had raided even further south and eventually become the Normans, who changed that.


Medeia Sharif said...

Great theme. I haven't read up much on Northmen, so this was interesting.

Deniz Bevan said...

I find it fascinating that some of the Northmen traded all the way down into Constantinople. I've got to read more about this some day...